If you’re a man of a certain age, you remember him being everywhere when you were growing up, that bastard Alan Alda.
He was the role model, we were instructed. The sensitive man. The man in touch with and able to express his own feelings. The man concerned with the needs and wants of the woman in his life. You couldn’t be a boy growing up in the 1970s and not be aware of him. He was a one-man cultural brainwashing machine where the 1950s had needed the Cleavers, Ozzie and Harriet, and Robert Young on Father Knows Best to even begin matching his awesome power.
And how could we impressionable young boys caught in the hormonal maelstroms of puberty not take him to heart? On M*A*S*H alone, he got the gorgeous Swedish nurse Inga, played by a young and breath-taking Mariette Hartley. Even Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan eventually succumbed to his sexual soft power. True, the North Koreans were shelling the abandoned hut where the two had taken refuge, but we all knew the earth had been moving long before then. Any appearance to the contrary was just bad editing.
Throw in a divorced mother and a feminist-activist older sister, and I really didn’t stand a chance against the paradigm shift that was that bastard Alan Alda. Captain Kirk did provide a valiant counterpoint, but he was in repeats. Alan Alda, on the other hand, was already writing and directing his own movies. And even now, I’ll take Betsy’s Wedding over Star Trek V any day.
There’s nothing wrong with a man being in touch with and able to express his own feelings, of course. Or being concerned with the needs and wants of the woman in his life. Dom or vanilla, those are good things. And if Alan Alda had simply left it at that, a generation of men might have turned out differently—and likely better, too. But Alan Alda did far more, and rather insidiously as well.
I finally realized this a few years ago, when I found myself, in my forties, not only on the verge of a 24/7 kink relationship for the first time but also trying to make a final peace with the Dom side of my switchhood, which until then had always been the annoying, uncertain little brother to my older, stronger submissive side. Because the real hang-up I faced at the time wasn’t that I didn’t want that type of power and control over my wife/lover/friend/partner and potential slave/property. For all sorts of reasons (good and bad, valid and misguided), I did want it, and very much so. (My wife and I are both switches, after all, and it was very different time, both for us and our marriage.) No, the real hang-up I faced was that I thought I shouldn’t want it, not like this, not 24/7, with consent given once and once only and all the control over at least the sexual part of our lives then resting in my hands alone. Even worse, I kept thinking that she shouldn’t really want it, either. And I can trace that mindset straight back to that long-ago bastard Alan Alda.
See, back in the days I’m talking about, Alan Alda was not the wonderfully villainous character-actor most people know him as today, not unless he was taking the piss out of some culturally approved joke-butt, like Frank Burns or Charles Emerson Winchester III. Back then, Alan Alda wasn’t just aware of and accommodating to a woman’s needs and desires. He elevated them above his own. Hell, he buried his own wants and needs in favor of hers. It wasn’t about correcting the mistakes of the past and bringing balance to a relationship. It was about throwing an existing imbalance off in the opposite direction entirely. Because as long was she was getting the gentle love and quiet understanding that we budding new-men-in-the-making were instructed that she longed for, well, that was not only all that Alan Alda asked for, it was all he could ask for. The point was to be what she needed and to be happy with whatever you got from her in return, even if that wasn’t what you really wanted or needed. Anything else was wrong, old, unenlightened, or Frank Burns.
And as far as her needs, well, God forbid she might actually want him to grab her throat, tear her clothes off, bind her wrists, and ravage her forcefully on some creaky cot just a few miles short of some future DMZ.
Or that he might want to do that as well, and not just because she wanted him to. (Service Top, thy name is Master Sir Alan Alda.)
For a very specific generation, Alan Alda encouraged the submissive men (even if they weren’t naturally submissive), shamed the dominant men, and really messed up we switches in the between. Sure, he broke with that one-size-fits-all programming of a certain stereotypical masculinity, but he replaced it with an equally restrictive, equally unyielding set of blinders. What men and women wanted—and worse, were supposed to want—were every bit as one-dimensional as what had come before. All that had changed was which side was supposed to not ask for what they wanted and needed in return, because what they really wanted and needed was wrong, and no woman could ever actually want that, either. Or so Alan Alda taught us.
Before I even knew my future wife existed, Alan Alda managed to convince me that she couldn’t possibly mean what she said about how she really wanted me to treat her in private, or how the balance of power in our relationship should be re-balanced at that point in time—especially after her being the Dominant one for so many years previous. I would have been able to hear and believe what she actually wanted from me, at that time, much earlier without Alan Alda. And I would have been more open with her, not to mention with myself, about what I really wanted from her, and jumped into the new dynamic then and there.
Because it’s what we both wanted, back then, despite everything that bastard Alan Alda taught me.
Even if it all did crash and burn within a few months. (My fault, mostly. See the mention of “misguided” reasons above.)
And even if a few years later, my wife wound up owning my each and every orgasm, and in total control of our sex life, 24/7, with my own pleasure and satisfaction portioned out strictly at her whim.
Just like Alan Alda, that wonderful bastard, taught me it should be.